BRT: LESSONS AFTER 10 YEARS
PICS: SUPPLIED BY LLOYD
No recipe for The decade since the launch of TransMilenio in
Bogotá has produced BRT projects around the globe,
success mainly in the developing world. Although the main
should not be copied and will not work in all cases,
write GERMÁN LLERAS and LILIANA PEREIRA, who
lthough the concept of BRT, and its
technology, has been around for more worked on the TransMilenio project at its inception.
than 25 years, it was only after the
success of TransMilenio in Bogotá (10 The four most critical areas or actions leading
years ago) that a new wave of interest started. up to operations are the infrastructure, operational
Many of the BRT systems implemented since design, fare collection and transport demand.
Other areas that also need critical attention are the
institutional arrangements and communication to
operational systems (TransMilenio in Bogotá, MIO promote the system and educate its users.
in Cali, and Megabús in Pereira), with a further six
systems in the planning, construction or design implementation emerge from one of its greatest
phase. Around the world many other cities have
followed suit: Jakarta, Dar es Salaam, Lagos, Mexico systems) are rooted in the city fabric, and thus offer
The Bogotá experience has shown that the access from the street. However, it is this connection
to the city that means the BRT needs to work closely
are key to achieving the desired goals within the
desired time frame. It often happens that these last in addition, the system is exposed to higher visibility,
few months are at the end of a government’s tenure, and if ill-designed it risks a higher urban impact.
creating an environment in which important steps
are neglected in the rush to start the operations. Infrastructure
Starting operations does not always guarantee One of the reasons BRT systems are attractive
is because investments in infrastructure are
comparatively lower than those of other
alternatives. This perception needs to be examined
reason that the best possible conditions are sought. in detail, however, to avoid common mistakes that
ultimately affect the service provision.
Corridor design is usually seen as a work
of highway engineering, with the goal of
accommodating exclusive lanes in a limited space.
into consolidated urban areas — and to complete this
goal, other important aspects are often neglected.
to bus corridors using sidewalks, parks and plazas,
overpasses, tunnels, street crossings and bus stops
or stations. Corridor design therefore needs to be
perceived mainly from the pedestrian perspective —
even more importantly when intersections are being
planned. A failure to adopt this perspective could
result in fewer users, as well as road safety problems.
The drivers of other vehicles, which are
sharing the right of way and crossing at several
intersections, also need also to be considered
in order to reduce accidents and guarantee
TransMilenio’s cross-sections are usually copied
as a template. Although many things can be learnt
from these, a closer look into TransMilenio’s
geometric design shows that there is in fact no
template, and that not all interventions have been
successful. Rather many different cross-sections have
requirements and urban constraints.
TransMilenio’s cross-sections are
usually copied as a template…
However, a closer look shows
that there is in fact no template,
and that not all interventions Accommodating dedicated bus
have been successful. consolidated urban areas.
Stations are nodes in a network where the
transported goods — in this case, people — are delay in the provision of this infrastructure will
result in higher operational costs.
of BRT systems. The main lesson here is that there is no recipe for
From the buses’ perspective, they are the success. A thoughtful balance between limited urban
bottleneck and need to be carefully designed in space, bus priority, and the delivery of safe and
order to reduce dwell times and minimise collisions. comfortable spaces for pedestrians inside and outside
From the user’s viewpoint, however, they are the the system should direct the engineering design.
places where valuable time is spent, so they must
be safe and comfortable. Stations are functional Operational design
Operational features have also been regularly copied
need energy, information and water, and they from TransMilenio, the most common being the use
produce information, money and waste. All these of articulated buses, the feeder–trunk scheme, and
the provision of express and local services.
and operation. They can also operate as sources of These are the direct results of designs associated
revenue, through advertising schemes, for example. with the need to accommodate more than 45 000
Another element is the size of BRT corridors and passengers per hour, per direction, during the peak
of the city and are an opportunity to improve urban loads that are already high are in the range of 5 000
design and foster changes and renovation. to 10 000 passengers per hour, per direction, and can
In some cases, depots or maintenance areas be served with smaller buses and regular services.
have been considered secondary, something to be An impact that should be obvious for transport
engineers but perhaps not to the general BRT
obvious that this is not a secondary issue, and any audience is that the use of articulated buses means
lower service frequency. The larger the bus size, the Any system that does choose separated feeder
longer the interval between successive buses. and trunk services must improve the design of the
In Bogotá, the decision to separate feeder from feeder network. This key component lacks the
trunk services and impose a transfer on passengers visibility of the trunk corridors and new buses, but
resulted from the need to optimise the articulated deserves equal, if not greater attention.
fleet. It was also related to the topography, The choice of bus size and technology can be
demographics, local infrastructure quality and decisive when measuring the accessibility of the
other specific local conditions. The need to transfer system. Smaller buses can make the system truly
often deters passengers, and if a service can be accessible in some areas and reduce the impact on
provided without the need for such a deterrent, it infrastructure needs. Repeatedly, feeder service
should be considered. The alternative can be called scores low on customer satisfaction surveys in
an open–trunk system, where buses use the local Colombia, showing a need for research and service
street network and then enter the trunk-specialised improvement.
lanes to complete the route. The decision will
have implications on the fleet size, service
regularity, capital and operational expenses, and Stations are functional pieces
of infrastructure, not an
Safety and comfort for commuters is
a priority, particularly at stations.
Simple is better. The Bogotá system is not
an easy one, due to the large number of express
services implemented exclusively to increase its
capacity. Express services, when capacity is not an
issue, should be avoided because they tend to create
unnecessary transfers and uneven use of the fleet,
and are not always understsood by the users. For
express services to operate, all stations must have
enough lane space to allow for over passing, thus
imposing a new restriction on the design process.
Trust is the cornerstone of fare collection. As with
other components of BRT systems, fare collection
needs time to mature, but setbacks in this area
may be more difficult to recover than in others. A
lack of trust from an actor, or minor signs of fraud,
represent major hurdles for the success of a BRT
project. Fare collection must therefore be one of the
areas of chief attention during the phases leading to
the project start.
This is particularly important given the slow
start of many fare collection systems. The chosen
technology may be demonstrated, but that is not
enough assurance that turnstiles, card readers,
servers, network and power connections, and other
features will be installed on time. Some unforeseen
situations, often related to the bureaucracy in import
processes, can and have delayed implementation.
The preferred form of payment in BRT systems
is the contactless smart card, storing paid trips or
money. This works in conjunction with card sales
and recharge booths, and ‘free’ or ‘validated’ rides
in feeder buses. This means that the technology
needs a context in which to operate. This context
is both technical and legal in nature, requiring
a detailed study to evaluate and implement a
specific alternative. Some of the typical areas
where conflicts arise are ownership of software
and hardware, initial distribution of cards,
stock of cards required, quality and quantity of
information stored and transmitted, guarantees of
redundant components, investments in security and
A bus-based system in
performance for components placed in buses and the government may use subsidies or delay other
stations, and commercial use of cards. vital investments.
New BRT systems must be prepared to start A second impact is the rise of informal or ‘illegal’ Germán Lleras is a
operation even without the full fare collection transport services emerging in those areas where Colombian Civil Engineer
scheme in place. This has been the case in many neither the new service nor the one being replaced with a Masters in City
are operational. Planning and Science
for operations using the currency (coins and notes), It is essential to use demand forecasting as a of Transportation.
tokens, or even printed paper should be considered. tool to understand patronage as a policy goal rather He worked during
than as a market expectation. Demand forecasting the inception of
Transport demand needs to look at sensitivity (ie, what problems or TransMilenio, during
Patronage of transport systems is at the heart of the changes are potential riders most sensitive to when the structuring process
relationship between the public and the provision of considering a new transport mode) as well as a
service. If the systems are not regularly used, both detailed risk analysis. is an associate at Steer
Davies Gleave and works
Notwithstanding the developments in demand
forecasting techniques, it is always the case The main lesson is that there is advising several BRT
that passenger demand estimates are based on projects mainly in Latin-
assumptions about the behaviour of passengers and
no recipe for success. American countries.
Part of this process is to understand that the Liliana Pereira is a
to ramp-up phenomena (the gap between product demand targets can be reached only if the new Colombian civil engineer
development and its expected demand target). system is reliable and improves the existing service. with postgraduate
In this regard it is not only important to have a Having a new system does not always mean having a
better one, and demand for urban public transport is economical project
target or operational thresholds, but also to not a captive demand. evaluation. She has
understand how quickly the system will evolve to The ten years that followed the start of worked in transport
achieve those levels of patronage. TransMilenio in Bogotá produced a set of BRT planning for more than
In Colombian cities, delays in the phase-out 10 years, four of which
developing world, allowing this transit alternative were in the planning
Firstly, lower patronage in the new system results to mature. Although the main features are clearly
in revenues below expected targets, and when this She is now Senior
occurs, both private and public stakeholders suffer should not be copied and will not work in all cases. Consultant at Steer
the consequences. Previous research and consulting efforts have Davies Gleave in Bogotá,
Private actors may default some of their focused on the planning stages. However, many and advises on BRT
cities that had completed that stage are still dealing projects in Colombia,
maintain the committed service. At the same time with the challenges of implementation. W Chile and Mexico.